Bluff is a tiny south eastern Utah town in the San Juan River valley founded in 1880 by 70 Mormon families. These families had spent the previous winter making a harrowing 250 mile journey from Parowan, UT to the San Juan River valley, overcoming enormous obstacles in order to answer their calling. We learned their story, from their descendants, at the Bluff Fort Historic Site
Hans and I first heard of Bluff from our friends John and Pam
, who have visited twice and rave about the fascinating hiking among ancient ruins in this area. Before the Mormons arrived, the area was inhabited for hundreds of years by Native Americans and the remains of their home sites can be found in numerous canyons all across south eastern Utah.
We only had two nights in Bluff, but that gave us one full day to get a feel for the area and gain an appreciation for the endless opportunities for exploration around here. One can drive a lot of miles seeking ancient ruins in Utah but we chose to stick close to town and explored the Butler Wash
area immediately east of Comb Ridge.
Comb Ridge is a huge monocline running 80 miles from Kayenta in northern AZ to the Abajo mountains near Blanding, UT. The west side of the Ridge is a sheer cliff but the east side is split by numerous box canyons, some with flowing springs...perfect habitat for ancient peoples to thrive.
Butler Wash road is a decent dirt road with a number of known Native American sites to explore, but you need details to find them...details such as exact mileage to the trail head. Once you arrive at that exact location there are no signs saying you've reached the location of a particular site, there might
be a single fiberglass trail sign without any specific details. We used this link
to find the three sites we visited, but a detailed book about the area would be much better.
We visited the Wolfman Petroglyph Panel, Monarch Cave Ruins and what we thought would be Split Level Ruins but turned out to be some other minor ruins. We learned that the canyons are full of dense foliage and long pants would be ideal for future explorations of the area, there can be lots of bushwacking! It is easy to see that we could pick a different canyon or two every day and work our way up Butler Wash Road...and that is just one small part of a huge area full of ancient ruins to find!
|View up Butler Wash with Comb Ridge on the left.|
|Ancient ruins in the wall of Butler Wash near the Wolfman Petroglyph Panel.|
|We scrambled along the edge of the wash wall to reach the Wolfman Panel.|
We saw very few people on Butler Wash Road, this site is closest to the highway so it gets the most visitors.
|These are thought to be made by Basketmaker Anasazi.|
Moving on down the road we came to what we hoped was the Monarch Cave Ruins trail. We were happy to see a trail sign, even though it had no site information, and an actual trail. The foliage was dense as we made our way into the canyon.
|No details, just a trail marker, it'll lead us to something...|
|At the head of the box canyon we found Monarch Cave Ruins!|
|Looking back up the canyon from the site.|
|There were lots of pot sherds, corn cobs, grinding holes and metates.|
|Most of the pictographs were hand prints.|
Next we drove to what we thought would be Split Level Ruins trail. We had a trail marker and a trail to follow, though it did not lead us to the expected ruins. Not a problem, the walk was beautiful and it was fun to explore a canyon not knowing what you might see around each turn!
|Heading towards Comb Ridge.|
|Very dilapidated ruins.|
|It was a gorgeous day for exploring.|
We stayed at Cottonwood RV Park
in Bluff. It's a nice little park that was nearing the end of its season, with only a handful of sites taken. Full hookups and a picnic table at each site. We had okay 4G Verizon signal with our booster, the parks wifi was useless.
Much time can be spent in this corner of Utah searching for ruins among the dramatic landscapes. In the future we'd likely hop around to different areas such as Bluff and Blanding and Cortez, CO, spending a little time in each exploring. A high clearance or 4x4 vehicle is needed to really get into the back country around here.
Next up: a brief stopover in Flagstaff.